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DPRK has every legitimate right to keep and increase its nuclear arsenal
Kim Myong Chol
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has every legitimate right to keep and increase its nuclear arsenal in its supreme national security interests. It goes without saying that the DRPK has an inalienable sovereign right to engage in civilian nuclear programs. Who wrote that? No other than the major dailies of the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom publishing articles endorsing the North Korean stand.
The Washington Post said in its editorial: "There is, in fact, a crude logic to North Korea 's public statements. It says it regards itself as a likely next target of American military might -- not an unreasonable perception given its place on Mr. Bush's 'axis of evil' -- and sees its only defense as a nuclear arsenal, or, failing that, a "change of attitude" and accompanying guarantee of nonaggression from the United States." (1)
The Baltimore Sun wrote: "To a great degree, the Bush administration positioned itself for this. The president took office listening to his hawks, who cast former President Clinton's policy of engaging the North - and reliance on the 1994 deal that temporarily cooled the last nuclear standoff - as far too appeasing. So Mr. Bush set out to teach the North a lesson, including it, for example, in his 'axis of evil.' Instead, the North now is teaching the United States some lessons."(2)
In a BBC commentary by Daniel Plesch, a scholar at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense Studies, said, " North Korea has decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, invoking its legal right to do so. "The move increases international tension and the risk of Japan reconsidering its position on nuclear weapons. But it is in line with the new approach to global security adopted by the Bush administration." (3)
The Toronto Star said in its commentary, "Who Can Blame North Korea ?": "That's what North Korea , far more noisily, is also doing. It is arming itself to stave off what Bush has all but promised. Any sensible country would do the same."(4)
The DPRK has three major reasons to justify its nuclear deterrence.
In the first place, as the U.S. is a sovereign state, so the DPRK is a sovereign state. There is no absolute international arbiter that has full authority to tell which of the countries of the world shall be allowed to keep a nuclear arsenal and which shall not be.
As a sovereign nation the DPRK is totally justified in taking whatever step is deemed necessary to safeguard its national security interests from any perceived threats. Included are all available weapons, defensive and offensive, conventional and unconventional, and plutonium- and uranium-based.
The US , Russia , China , the UK , France , India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed countries. Israel is strongly suspected to have nuclear arms. No bilateral or multilateral talks have ever been held to insist that any of those countries should dismantle their nuclear arsenal and programs in a complete, verified, irreversible way. If they should be allowed to remain nuclear-armed in their supreme national security interests, so should the DPRK be.
The first job of a sovereign state is to defend its sovereignty, territory and people at all costs and by fair means or foul. National sovereignty is the apple of the Korean people's eye. The North Korean people and the DPRK government of Kim Jong Il prefer to live and die hungry wolves than fat dogs.
They are so sensitive about their sovereignty being infringed upon that they are geared for fighting a nuclear exchange with the U.S. Kim Jong Il warns, "If even a single particle of radioactive fallout falls on inalienable Korean soil, the U.S. will be reduced to a sea of fire."
This explains the degree of determination with which the North Koreans forced the Americans to back down in the past four rounds of DPRK-US military confrontations. The first is the 1968 capture of the USS spy ship Pueblo, the second the 1969 downing of an electronics intelligence aircraft EC-121, the third the 1976 poplar tree incident and the fourth the 1993-94 nuclear standoff.
As Jimmy Carter noted, " North Korea is an isolated country, poverty stricken, paranoid, apparently self-sacrificial and amazingly persistent in international confrontations, as is now being demonstrated. It is a cultural and almost sacred commitment for its leaders not to back down, even in the face of international condemnation and the most severe political and economic pressure." (6)
Secondly, the world's superpower nuclear rogue nation, the U.S. has been adamant in refusing to abandon its policy of hostility to the DPRK and singled out the DPRK as a prime target of nuclear preemptive strikes. The DPRK is unique where the DPRK has remained exposed to serious nuclear threats from the world's superpower, the United States of America , for more than fifty years, longer than any other country.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist notes: "Nuclear weapons and Korea have been entwined for more than 50 years. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the United States threatened several times to use nuclear weapons. After the armistice, U.S. military forces remained in South Korea . North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea , or DPRK) was threatened with nuclear weapons during the Korean War, and that for decades afterwards U.S. weapons were deployed in the South." (7)
Third is the fact that the U.S. brought the UN to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction before invading the Arab country. UN or any other form of international inspections is a prelude to an eventual American invasion.
Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Kurt Campbell said, "What we need is a regime change in Washington , DC ." (8) The New York Times described the U.S. as "nuclear rogue." In its lead editorial entitled, " America as Nuclear Rogue," the New York Times wrote:
"If another country were planning to develop a new nuclear weapon and contemplating pre-emptive strikes against a list of non-nuclear powers, Washington would rightly label that nation a dangerous rogue state. Yet such is the course recommended to President Bush by a new Pentagon planning paper that became public last weekend. Mr. Bush needs to send that document back to its authors and ask for a new version less menacing to the security of future American generations." (9)
Another outstanding thing about the U.S as a nuclear rogue state is that the U.S. is the world's number one nuclear proliferator. The U.S. supplied the UK with four nuclear submarines of the Trident class in material breach of the NPT. (10) In addition to its status of the world's No. 1 exporter of weapons, the U.S. has provided 17,500 kilograms of weapons-grade enriched uranium to 43 countries. The Americans have recovered approximately 2,600 kilograms, while doing little to recover the rest. This means that about 15,000 kilogram are still abroad, out of U.S. control, more than enough for roughly 1,000 nuclear bombs. (11)
Thirdly, the DPRK is not subject to any international law in conducting whatever form of nuclear activity, military and civilian, including nuclear bomb tests. The DPRK is not a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The 1994 Agreed Framework has been dead for two years.
Even the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows any member non-nuclear weapons state to engage in peaceful nuclear programs including uranium-based ones. The Geneva nuclear agreement does not cover any uranium program. (12) The dead nuclear accord only obliged Pyongyang to shut down its graphite-moderated reactor and its related facilities. It allowed the North Koreans to acquire a new type of nuclear reactors, light-water reactors and get supply of fuel from abroad. In other words, there is no legal basis for any demand for inspections of the nuclear facilities in the DPRK and for their dismantlement.
According to USA Today (February 18, 2004), International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed Elbaradei recently wrote: "We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use." (13)
Key Factors behind Nuclear Arming
Hostility from Japan or South Korea will never prompt North Korea to seek to acquire nuclear deterrence. The North Koreans are 100% confident of their ability to handle them. American hostility is totally different, however. It has produced three negative effects: (1) perennial threats of nuclear attacks; (2) heavy drain on the economy of the cost of maintaining huge standing forces; (3) major stumbling block to the effort of the Korean people to reunite.
Facing the American nuclear threats poses a gigantic challenge to Kim Jong Il and his North Korean people. Chinese and Russian pledge of help will most unlikely deter the Americans. The U.S. is the first and only country in history that ever actually used nuclear weapons in war and against civilian targets such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki . The Americans dropped atomic bombings on the two cities when there was no practical military need to.
Secondly, the Americans unsuccessfully made real attempts to use nuclear weapons in Korea, at least on three occasions: (1) July-August 1950 American retreat to the Pusan perimeter; (2) the winter 1950-spring 1951 American stampede from North Korea; (3) the autumn 1952-spring 1953 ceasefire negotiations. Thirdly, the Americans have kept a nuclear attack force in and around South Korea , which is ready to pounce upon North Korea at a moment's notice.
In a wake-up call two developments occurred to Kim Jong Il and his people. One is the strong likelihood that the Americans will launch nuclear preemptive strikes on his country when they conclude that neither of Russia and China will side with North Korea . The other is a realization that determined objection raised by both Beijing and Moscow and the UN failed to stop the Bush Administration from launching an unwarranted and illegal war against Iraq, a sovereign state, and toppling its Hussein regime.
The second consideration behind the decision of Kim Jong Il to acquire nuclear capability is the matter of cost performance in maintaining and reinforcing national defenses.(14) Operating huge armed forces, which consume most of the available national resources, is too heavy a drain on the economy in terms of manpower and funding.
Given the scale of the North Korean economy, it is an economic miracle for Pyongyang to manage to build and maintain the national defenses strong enough to keep the nuclear superpower at bay. The continuing state of war with the U.S. necessitates huge defense spending. Nuclear weapons are expected to go a long way towards relieving the burden of the military on the national economy.
Third comes the supreme national task of accomplishing the long-elusive reunification of the divided country. National reunification calls for putting a long-awaited period to the nuclear-based American military interventionist role in the domestic affairs of the Korean Peninsula . In other words, the American nuclear umbrella over South Korea must be torpedoed and nullified.
As long as Korea remains divided, America will find good reason to come back even if its forces are withdrawn from South Korea . As long as the tragic Korean division continues intact, military tensions will show no signs of abating. First of all, the Korean people have no justifiable reason at all to live separated in two parts of Korea . Korea was divided against their will.
Maximum legitimacy of the DPRK government of Kim Jong Il comes not from its policy of butter and bread. The DPRK government derives its legitimacy and national credentials from its steadfast independence from big powers and unwavering commitment to the reunification of Korea and reinstatement of traditional Korean values throughout the Korean Peninsula .
There is no doubt left in the minds of the North Koran population of 22 million that their government of Kim Jong Il is authorized to do what it can for the overpowering cause of reintegration of the homeland, no matter how great sacrifices may be entailed. This said, access to nuclear deterrence is like killing three birds with one stone. Nothing is more effective in cost performance and benefits than acquiring nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as means of delivery. There are obvious limits to conventional arms as a tool of diplomacy.
Building North Korea into an invincible citadel capable of withstanding nuclear strikes is a wise policy in that it effectively defends the homeland from foreign invaders. Yet, maintaining a huge standing army equipped with conventional arms is money-losing and will not do anything to neutralize the American nuclear-based military intervention in Korea . The U.S. can afford to disregard it like a lion can stay away from a porcupine.
Acquisition of nuclear weapons has enabled the DPRK government of Kim Jong Il to reduce the Bush doctrine of preemption to a dead letter and induce the unwilling Bush Administration to the negotiating table.
Since nuclear arming is politically inspired chiefly for forcing the U.S. to put a long-elusive period to the policy of hostility, it is negotiable if the U.S. should be ready to abandon its policy of hostility. Otherwise, the DPRK will keep and increase its nuclear arsenal capable of putting the torch to New York , Washington ,DC, and Chicago as the U.S. can shower nuclear bombs and missiles on North Korea at any time.
Three Scenarios Attendant on Nuclear Arms Program
Before deciding to go ahead with the nuclear deterrence development program, Kim Jong Il carefully weighed three scenarios against each other. Findings would decide the future of the Korean Peninsula .
The first scenario envisages the Americans agreeing on talks with North Korea to replace the armistice with a lasting peace treaty. The second imagines that the U.S. will continue ignore the DPRK by refusing to talk. The third is a worst-case scenario in which the U.S. will respond to the North Korean nuclear arms program by unleashing surgical strikes on the Yongbyon nuclear site.
A careful study of the three scenarios produced encouraging results. The first scenario is a dream scenario involving the U.S. agreeing to leave behind the two enemies more than fifty years of hostility and to establish full diplomatic relations. For its part, the U.S. will stand to benefit most because the U.S. will have the DPRK giving up its nuclear arms program for practically nothing. In short, every party will emerge a winner.
The second scenario is the second best because lack of bilateral talks and a peace mechanism will enable the DPRK to emerge a declared nuclear power. Official membership of the elite nuclear club will discredit the American nuclear umbrella and deal a telling blow to the global regime of international nuclear non-proliferation. North Korea will become a definite winner, while the U.S. will be a loser.
The worst-case scenario sees the U.S. rejecting the North Korean offer to negotiate the peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff. The U.S. will find it alone in the international community for nixing the peace overture from Pyongyang and starting war. New war will most likely expand into a thermonuclear war spilling over into China and Russia .
A third world war will end up leaving South Korea , Japan and the heavy metropolitan U.S. destroyed. The North Koreans are all mentally and physically prepared to take and survive massive American nuclear strikes. They believe that they are better geared for nuclear exchange than the Americans.
They are confident that their small fleet of nuclear-tipped ICBMs can put the torch to the metropolitan U.S.A. Which has greater economic value to the U.S. and the world, New York or Pyongyang ? Even when North Korea was rebuilt into an impregnable fortress, the U.S. did not care at all. No diplomatic channel was opened between the two enemies.
As the DPRK leader predicts, nuclear activity has turned out to be far more effective in drawing American attention and inducing the U.S. into asking for direct talks with the DPRK. Once the U.S. detected signs of nuclear activity in North Korea as far back as the early 80s, the Americans ceased to ignore Pyongyang.(15) On October 31, 1988 , the Reagan Administration opened a direct Beijing channel of diplomatic dialogue with the DPRK. (16)
The Bush Administration, which scored a much-publicized victory in the 1991 Gulf War, offered to withdraw tactical nuclear arms from South Korea and agreed to suspend the Team Spirit series. On September 27, 1991 , Bush announced the withdrawal of tactical nuclear arms from South Korea . The Bush Administration also moved to cancel the Team Spirit exercises for 1992.
There were two significant aspects of the policy behavior of the Bush Administration. One was a relatively low-profile approach to the nuclear issue. Bush Senior refrained from doing any thing to offend the DPRK. The other was the fact that the U.S. moved first to encourage the North Koreans to respond in kind. Bush Senior did not insist that North Korea move first.
Had he been returned in the 1992 presidential election, Bush Senior might have become a Nobel Laureate, showered with international accolade for ending the Cold War in Germany and Korea . The Korean Peninsula would be now a nuclear-free reunified land with full diplomatic relations with the U.S. , Japan , Russia and China .
Contrary to the North Korean expectations, a tough-talking Clinton won the presidential race and swept away what the predecessor Bush did. Clinton ordered the Team Spirit war games resumed for 1993 and demanded that North Korea disarm itself by accepting intrusive inspections from the IAEA. Kim Jong Il reacted by ordering the Korean armed forces into war alert.
Kim Jong Il and policy planners in Pyongyang characterized the 1993-94 nuclear standoff as the fourth conflict between a de facto nuclear power, DPRK David, and the sole nuclear superpower, the U.S.A. Goliath. In the previous three showdowns, a conventional-armed North Korea gallantly stood up to the nuclear-armed U.S. Kim Jong Il also ordered war games simulating full-scale onslaughts on the American forces in South Korea .
Kim Jong Il also ordered two long-range ballistic missiles test-fired into the Pacific. Two missiles, blasted off from North Korea on May 29, 1993 , flew over Japan , one splashing down off Hawaii and the other off Guam , traveling nearly 6,000 km and 4,000 km respectively. The Clinton Administration refused to announce the flight of North Korean missiles over Japan and simply said that one missile fell on the East Sea . Five years later, in 1998 the Clinton Administration notified the then Hashimoto Government of the fact.
At that time, Ambassador Foley informed the then Japanese Premier Hashimoto of the flight over Japan of North Korean missiles. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Kirt Campbell made the same revelation to Self-Defense Forces officials that Rep. Kirk Mark, speaking at a forum at Capital Hill on April 27, 2001 , gave a vivid eye-witness account of the North Korean missile flying over Japan . (17) He recalled that he and his colleagues were drenched in tears, scared by the incoming North Korean missile.
Contrary to the common belief, the North Koreans outfoxed the Clinton Administration into backing down from its initial effort to strong-arm North Korea . Clinton faced two options, war and talks. Before the Clinton Administration realized, the Americans entered into talks with North Korea . A marathon series of bilateral talks culminated in the Americans signing the October 21, 1994 Agreed Framework.
In the Geneva accord the Clinton Administration made four critical pledges: (1) supply of two light-water reactors to North Korea by 2003, (2) supply to North Korea of 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year, (3) upgrading of bilateral relations to the ambassadorial level, (4) formal assurances to the DPRK against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
At long last, the Kim Jong Il government came within easy range of the once-elusive national goal of reunification. Well familiar with deceptive American policy behavior, Kim Jong Il took it for granted that the American government would fail to default on their four pledges. In the analysis of the North Korean leader, another round of a major showdown would come up in 2003 as an endgame of the DPRK-US confrontation which has lasted for more than half a century.
Its outcome would decide the future of the relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and that of the Korean Peninsula . Outcome will carry far-reaching implications for the future peace and security structure of East Asia . All he had to do was to make well-considered preparations for the final showdown with the American government and wait for it to come.
Kim Jong Il's Perspective on Nuclear Endgame
The 2003 crisis finds a de jure nuclear power and a nuclear superpower locked in the endgame. Kim Jong Il observed in September, 2003: "We are girding ourselves for the historic endgame stage of the nuclear showdown with the U.S. They have no other choice than to settle for our generous-minded package solution. Otherwise, they will end up in disgrace as losers."
The extent of resolve which marks the supreme leader's way of handling the endgame of the nuclear standoff with the superpower is manifest in the binding resolution the DPRK's Supreme People's Assembly unanimously adopted on September 3, 2003.(18) The resolution is now a law binding the behavior of the DPRK Government and the military vis-a-vis the Bush Administration. The law means that the hawks in the DPRK will never allow the Foreign Ministry to yield to the American pressure.
The law endorses the DPRK Foreign Ministry in seeing no further point in multilateral talks in the absence of American intent to peacefully co-exist with the DPRK. The resolution added that the DPRK Government decided to take relevant measures to keep and enhance its nuclear deterrent.
The game plan Kim Jong Il has laid down for the final showdown with the Bush Administration is so crafted that he will emerge triumphant, whatever the outcome of the nuclear standoff may be. The Washington Times writes(19): "In the short term, they win in both cases," one administration official said. "If we negotiate and give them security guarantees, they win. If we don't negotiate, they will probably develop nuclear weapons in the next six to eight months."
His immediate strategic goal is to make irrelevant the American nuclear umbrella and neutralize the American nuclear-based military intervention in Korean affairs. It will decisively help create an environment where he can achieve his ultimate strategic goal of bringing together the North and South Korean people within a bi-system reunification framework.
The North Korean game plan is double-tiered. Its first stage is to make the Bush Administration look stupid and an odd man out in the international community. Its purpose is to isolate and alienate the Bush Administration from the mainstream society in the U.S. and from its allies. To this end, steps are taken to cast the Bush Administration as opposed to the fair, workable peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff for all the parties to see. So far the first stage has worked well.
Joseph Nye, Arnold Kantor, Brent Scowcroft and others agree that "time is not on the side of Bush" and "Bush must swallow his pride." (20) Ralph Cossa, President of Pacific Forum/CSIS noted in his article that Bush, while touring Asia, found that Asian allies, including South Korea, were cool to his plan to squeeze the DPRK. (21)
Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yi, which played host to the six-party talks in Beijing, on September 1, 2003, branded US policy to the DPRK, the "main problem" in reaching a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis, echoing Pyongyang's bitter assessment about why the talks had failed. (22)
The second phase, currently under way, is to reduce the U.S. seeking to find an exit strategy. A key to success in this stage is to outmaneuver the U.S. in diplomatic and psychological warfare and isolate the Americans, bringing home to them that there is little left but to accept the North Korean demand. This process is already in the works.
The DPRK Foreign Ministry, in its October 25 statement, stated its readiness to consider a non-treaty form of non-aggression pledge offered by Bush on October 20. The DPRK Foreign Ministry statement prescribed rules for a peaceful resolution of the crisis: peaceful coexistence and simultaneous action.(21) The DPRK Foreign Ministry followed it up with another statement dated December 9, offering to take first-phase action by making word-for words commitment.
It said: "Our stand is to agree upon the first-phase action by making 'words for words' commitment at the next round of the six-way talks at least if the U.S. is not in a position to accept our proposal for a package solution at one time. " The DPRK Foreign Ministry specified the steps the U.S should take in exchange for the DPRK's freeze of nuclear activities., such as the U.S. delisting the DPRK as a "terrorism sponsor", lift of the political, economic and military sanctions and blockade and energy aid including the supply of heavy fuel oil and electricity by the U.S. and neighboring countries. What is clear is that in no case the DPRK would freeze its nuclear activities unless it is rewarded."
As expected, the second six-party talks, held in Beijing on February 25-28, produced the desired results: the U.S. became an odd man out with Japan only seconding, while China , Russia and South Korea supported the North Korean proposal.
Reuter quoted Wendy Sherman, chief negotiator with North Korea in the Clinton Administration, as commenting: "I think the (Bush) administration has backed away from virtually every principle it set down, but if that protects the world and keeps us safe, it doesn't matter to me that the rest of us were right." (23)
The Los Angeles Times noted: "As North Korea watchers looked for signs of winners and losers, several said North Korea came away looking more flexible and reasonable, and the United States less so." (24)
The same paper added: "Analysts said another subtle shift seen in these talks was the relative positions of the six parties. In the past, it has generally been a 3-3 split, with Russia , China and North Korea on one side of the divide and the military alliance partners of the United States , Japan and South Korea on the other. The latest talks suggest the division is now closer to 4-2, Pang said, with South Korea more closely aligned with the former camp, as demonstrated by the energy proposal Seoul crafted with Moscow and Beijing ."
Absence of diplomatic relations and the continuing state of war will leave North Korea with no other option than to maintain and strengthen its nuclear deterrence. Adamant US refusal to put to rest the state of war and the policy of hostility will force the hand of the North Koreans by convincing the hardliners in the Pyongyang leadership that the US policy aim is to gain time and strike the country after denuclearizing it.
Once it has become unmistakably clear to the Kim Jong$B!!(BIl government that the Bush administration will not agree to co-exist with the DPRK by refusing to terminate the state of war with North Korea and establish full diplomatic relations, North Korea will have no alternative but to detonate thermonuclear devices in a series of nuclear tests.
Once North Korea tests nuclear devices, there will be no turning back the clock. Should Bush bow to neo-conservative pressure not to agree to co-existence with North Korea and decide to launch a military invasion of the tiny country,that would be a US choice. The North Koreans would readily take up the nuclear gauntlet. There is no need to fire thousands of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to put the torch to New York and other metropolitan areas of the US mainland. A small number would do the job.
Alternatively, if Bush has what it takes to be a global leader, he will take a wise course of action to lead North Korea to see little sense in keeping a nuclear arsenal. Kim Jong Il is looking forwards to seeing whether Bush will emerge a global statesman with strong commitments to peace, emulating his father. Bush Senior is credited with peacefully ending the Cold War. Will Bush Junior get credit for defusing the nuclear crisis? An answer will come probably soon.
The DPRK Government of Kim Jong Il is apparently in no hurry because time is on its side. The Americans have to race against time, acting on four-year runs, whereas the North Koreans act on a much longer time frame. It doesn't matter at all who will become next President of the U.S. The North Koreans have already dealt with the successive American Presidents, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush senior, Clinton, and Bush junior. The North Koreans see little essential difference between Republican and Democratic Presidents except cosmetic and tactical changes.
What makes the U.S. look foolhardy in the eyes of the international community is the fact that only the U.S. adamantly refuses to end its policy of hostility and peacefully co-exist with the Government of Kim Jong Il when the DPRK has established diplomatic relations with Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Mexico, almost all the Western allies of the U.S. except for Japan and France.
Whoever becomes next President, the U.S. has no good reason to remain hostile. The U.S. has to choose between allowing the DPRK to emerge a major nuclear power with ICBM capability and following the example of the United Kingdom , Canada and others to normalize relations with the Far Eastern country.
1. The Washington Post, April 29, 2003
Kim Myong Chol, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Center for Korean-American Peace.
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